This is the second show in our new series that discusses the safety of countries. Our first destination was Russia, and if you saw that, episode, you’ll know that we focused not only on safety in terms of people visiting the country as tourists, but also how safe you might be if you intended to go and live in the country.
Again, we’ll state that general safety is not always easy to understand, mainly because it often depends on where you intend to stay and what you intend to do there. We will, however, look at crime statistics, government advice, recent news reports and what the people living there tell us. It’s by no means an exact science, but we should get some idea about the dangers that exist. So, welcome to this episode of the Infographics Show, Is It Safe: To Live in Mexico?
Mexico is a fairly large country in the southern part of North America, with the USA standing above it and Central America down below. At time of writing, Worldometers states the live population of Mexico is 130,333,770, making it one of the most populous nations on Earth.
So, you’re thinking about living there, perhaps going to one of those beautiful beaches in the Yucatan, or chilling to the sound of mariachis in one of the country’s many colorful cities. But there’s one thing that bothers you, and that’s all the news reports you keep seeing about gang violence that looks more like war than drug-related crime. You’d have to be living under a stone not to have seen any of the countless TV series and documentaries showing us that Mexico has some really mean streets. So, let’s start with that, gangs and crime and murders.
If you check out a report called “Global Violent Deaths 2017,” it lists countries that have been war-torn, but also areas where the violence is mainly due to what we might call non-armed-conflict violent crime. The 5 countries highest on the list were:
Syria, El Salvador, Venezuela, Honduras and Afghanistan. Searching on the web, you can find statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, but some of these reports are a few years old. Most lists you’ll find contain the countries we just mentioned, but you can also add Mexico’s neighbors to the top ten or even top five list, which are the countries of Belize and Guatemala. The latest reports we can find put the Honduras murder rate at 42.8 murders per every 100,000, and Mexico at 22.7. Another source tells us it is 16.35 per 100,000 or 20,762 intentional homicides in total. The same source puts the USA tally at 4.88 per 100,000 or 15,696 in total.
For 2018, the website Numbeo puts Venezuela at the top of its overall crime index, giving it a very poor safety rating. It puts Mexico in 32nd place. Other countries popular with tourists are rated more dangerous, such as Brazil, South Africa, Jamaica, Malaysia, Argentina, Cambodia and Vietnam. Something called the Social Progress Index also gives Mexico an average rating for safety. In terms of how dangerous Mexico is, we have to look at certain areas of the country.
Despite those statistics we just mentioned, CNN cited Mexican government statistics that told us there was a massive hike in the murder rate of late, and in 2017, it says 25,339 people were murdered. It said these were largely gang-related murders, and the murder hotspots were Guerrero, Jalisco, Sinaloa and Baja California Sur.
Now, perhaps one problem regarding foreign visitors is that two of Mexico’s very popular tourist cities are first and third ranked in terms of global murders per city. Number one is Los Cabos at 111 murders per 100,000, and number three is Acapulco at 106 murders per 100,000. According to U.S. news reports, this hasn’t stopped Americans from flocking there.
The question is, how likely are you, as a visitor or as an expat, to get caught-up in this violence? Well, in 2018 the U.S. State Department issued a security alert after a bomb explosion on a ferry in the popular resort town of Playa del Carmen. However, the same department only gives Mexico a level two grade for danger overall. This means you should exercise caution when you are there.
The report states that gang-related crime should not affect visitors to the country, but “Bystanders have been injured or killed in shooting incidents.” At the same time, the U.S. government gives some areas a level three rating, which means you probably should not go there, and that travelling from city to city in these areas can be dangerous due to gangs sometimes blocking the roads.
It gives some areas a level 4 rating, which means DO NOT VISIT for any reason. In these areas, you might be taken hostage or find yourself in the middle of a gun battle, according to the report. It also says that in these areas there’s a high risk of “murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, extortion, and sexual assault.” So, at all costs, we are told, stay away from the states of Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas. These all get the level 4 rating.
To give you an idea of safety, Forbes ran a story in 2018 that stated, “More Americans were reported killed by homicide in Mexico than the combined total of Americans killed by homicide in every other country abroad.” We should understand, though, that Mexico is full of American expats and tourists.
The same article cites Australian government warnings, telling people to be aware that violent crime and robbery against visitors is common in some parts of Mexico. It goes on to say that pick-pocketing is also common, as are crooked Mexican cops taking advantage of outsiders. What does the British government say? It says remain vigilant even if on one of those wonderful beaches, and mentions the “bad states” the US government tells us are no-go areas. Even in Mexico City be vigilant, says the UK government, but it also adds this: “Over 513,800 British nationals visited Mexico in 2016. Most visits are trouble-free.”
Nonetheless, after hearing what we’ve just told you, you could be thinking that sipping a Pina Colada in Tora Bora would be safer than singing along to “La Cucaracha” in a shady Mexican town square. Well, the British government says it’s just a matter of research and knowing where you shouldn’t go. “The violence is concentrated in specific areas, and some regions are almost completely spared,” is the UK official line. If you are hanging out in Merida or Mexico City, your chance of being subjected to violence or robbery should not be high. But should you settle down in Sinaloa, the former stomping ground of the notorious Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, things might be different.
We checked out an expat forum where that question was asked, and fortunately some American expats living in Sinaloa were there to answer. One person wrote, “Sinaloa is not nearly as hostile and life-threatening as often portrayed by the U.S. media, but it certainly is not as safe, unblemished, and invulnerable as a travel agent might suggest.” Stay off the back-roads, said the person, and stay out of what he called the “hinterlands.”
In fact, you can find many expat stories about how great life is in the Sinaloan resort town of Mazatlán. Some expats talk about the friendly and welcoming people, and while they don’t deny there is violence, some say American cities such as Chicago and Baltimore are also quite dangerous. Another Mazatlan-based expat wrote, “It seems like the press and the US government are going out of their way to discourage people from vacationing in Mexico. Those of us who live here – who love it here, wonder why.” He added, “I take common sense precautions and keep my eyes open. But…you know, I do that wherever I am.”
Some expats also pointed out – and we can verify that they are correct – that the rape and assault rate in Mexico is much lower than in the U.S. As the Huffington Post reports, in spite of Mexico having some startling murder statistics, “What you don’t get from most reports in the US is statistical evidence that Americans are less likely to face violence in Mexico than at home.”
Ok, so this offers a counter view. Let’s now see what Mexicans think about how safe their country is. We looked at Quora where this question was posed and Mexicans and non-Mexicans all said the same thing. Yes, it’s safe to travel in the country. Juan Ramirez said use caution in some areas, but generally, he said, “Most places you hear about that people go to are just as safe as any travel destination in the USA, Western Europe, or Australia.”
There is another big danger in some countries, and that is dying while driving. For traffic fatalities, Mexico falls under the world average of 17.4 deaths per 100,000 at just over 12. Most bloggers we can find writing about driving in Mexico say that it is generally safe. Other annoyances in Mexico could include getting malaria or dengue fever, which is possible in certain areas of the country, according to the CDC, although you shouldn’t be too concerned.
As for other critters to watch out for, besides the dreaded mosquito, Mexico has lots of them: scorpions, spiders, and you might just meet a venomous snake when walking in the Maya jungle. Again, it’s not something you should be overly concerned about. You should probably be more concerned about becoming that drunk person that eats the worm in the cheapest bottle of mezcal you could find…and then decides to go out and party some more.
So, in conclusion. Government websites are quite sure you should stay away from some areas, but some expats disagree. Gang violence is likely not going to come your way, but exercise some caution as you would anywhere. Walking around drunk at night in cities, or wandering into territory where gangs are known to frequent, is probably not a good idea.
For the most part people are friendly and hospitable, and tourists, statistically, should be safe. But there have been some incidences of tourists getting hurt, and with all that gang violence we must accept we could just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. For this reason, we will put Mexico higher than Russia on the danger scale.
If you are Mexican, or have been to mexico, please share your thoughts on the subject in the comments. Also, be sure to check out our other video called Regular Things that are Illegal in North Korea! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!